Monday, August 30, 2010

The Golden Rule, 2.0

Never start a conversation with a person you have not spoken to in twenty years, when they were fifteen, with; “You're an atheist? What the hell? Have you lost your mind?” This recently happened to one of my brothers when a well meaning childhood friend of ours discovered his decision to stop practicing Christianity on Face Book and posted the above on his wall. Mild obscenity aside, this question sparked no debate, or meaningful rekindling of an old friendship which may have led to the opportunity to speak into someone's life. It inspired one thing; a “click” on the mouse as my brother de-friended him.

We have all heard the old saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I personally have eradicated it from my vocabulary and am working on erasing it from my thinking as well. I found that focusing on the “hate the sin” part was distracting me from the “love the sinner part”. This was brought home to me when I recently watched the first season of “Survivor” again and noticed that while I had despised the infamous Richard Hatch, (the first winner, for the uninitiated) during the run of the program, his actions looked much different to me now. I said as much to my wife and the first words out of her mouth were profound, “I think it must have been because he was gay.” At first I chuckled, but that bothered me later.

Now, let me explain something; I do believe that any type of sex outside of marriage is against God's law, homosexuality included. I will take one step further and say that I believe that that particular sexual proclivity is forbidden in scripture and is always sin, regardless of the commitment between the two parties. However, I also think that when Jesus said, “Be careful when you judge...for the same judgment you dish out, will come back to you.” (paraphrasing of course, although I know for a fact that he didn't say it in the king's best English either) that he meant this: If you feel burdened to start every conversation with a known “sinner” by revealing that God hates their sin, or even if you are being their “friend” while biding your time, waiting for the precise right opportunity to reveal this liberating bit of information, which you are sure of course will reduce them to a ball of blubbering repentance and lead them to a life of holiness that may even rival your own, you should think twice.

Homosexuality is sin, so is: the magazine taped under your bedside table drawer, the website you think nobody knows you are on and the bottle inside your toilet tank. It is no more sin than watching a movie that helps you entertain thoughts you don't need, singing along to that song on your Ipod when no one is listening and engaging in the conversation that starts with, “You didn't hear it from me, but...”. Not to mention calling what plays on top 40 radio these days music. Way back in the good ole days of the 80's we had songs that described sex in obscure, poetic metaphorical language, instead of the vulgar, crass, clinical descriptions they use today. (with a few notable exceptions such as “I Want Your Sex”) Or, how about the blatant lack of artistry in such lyrics as “My life would suck without you” or “just like a tattoo, I'll always have you” (although the second is, technically, a metaphor, I suppose). My point being: these are crimes against society, at least, if not technically sin.

We seem to have forgotten the golden rule “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” We have substituted our own wording: “Do unto others of equal economic status, like minded political affiliations and a level of acceptable righteousness in their personal moral behavior, as you would have them do unto you, and condemn the rest for what they are! Expose their sin, to save their souls, of course, and warn everyone of the danger they represent to prevent further decay in our holy society.”

Wow! That last bit sounds just like Jesus, don't you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My "Political" Agenda

I grew up conservative. My father was a Church of Christ minister. My mother was the daughter of a Church of Christ minister. My parents were part of the foundation of Eagle Forum and Right to Life in the communities my Father preached in at the time. The Church of Christ, as the old saying goes, is so conservative, they don't believe in premarital sex because it leads to dancing. In fact, I sat on the stage in gym class while my classmates learned to square dance. I sat in the library while my classmates went to the local high school pool because I wasn't allowed to engage in “mixed” swimming with members of the opposite sex, in the third grade. Consequently I did not learn to swim until the age of thirty.

When I was fourteen I became obsessed with politics. I studied government, as a homeschooler, on my own for the last five years of my school career. I read the constitution on a regular basis, and studied the writings of the founders. I became the youngest delegate from our district at the age of eighteen for the state republican convention, I paiged at the state capitol and helped Istook get elected as a campaign volunteer. I was dyed in the wool Republican and could not see how anyone that claimed to be a democrat and a Christian could possibly sleep at night, and might in fact be suffering from dissociative personality disorder.

My family came out of the frying pan into the fire by making the transition from the Church of Christ into a spirit filled charismatic Church, with three hour worship and lots of speaking in tongues, in the height of the charismatic renewal of the mid to late eighties. I was firmly convinced that the United States was God's plan for the salvation of the planet and in this environment was no lack of voices to give me spiritual “confirmation” on that point

My disillusionment with this idea began some time after I was married, at age twenty, when the Church I was actively attending, and running an active drama ministry and serving as a volunteer youth intern in, began to fall apart. I, of course, had long ago realized that my parents were far from perfect, but my eyes were not opened yet to how flawed we all are. I believed in these men, our pastors and elders, as “men of God”, which they were. But, my understanding of this went through a major paradigm shift when they began to make secretive decisions and hand down edicts that effected myself, my ministry and my good friends who were pastors there.

It sent me back to the study of scripture which had been a huge part of my upbringing, and was an active part of my life but became needed rather than something I did because I was supposed to. My father's pattern had always been to teach through the entire Bible every year, hitting high points along the way. Until I was twenty I could count the number of Sundays I was not in a pew, in my entire life, so I knew scripture. My own study had paralleled my father's preaching and I loved nothing better than to sit in the corner of his study and discuss the Bible with him. This time I began to see things a little differently.

I had always believed that my own family was poor due in some way to my father's failings. My beliefs dictated that some sin, or wrong attitude, had brought him to the place he deserved to be. He had left the ministry when we moved from the Church of Christ, and the Church I was serving in went so far as to disallow him to pray for people, (on a prayer team he had been instrumental in founding), because his financial failures were (obviously) a distinct indication that he was in grave sin.

But, I had begun to notice a pattern in the teachings of Christ. He seemed to have little good to say about money and the rich, while his heart for the poor is obviously stirred. I tracked down the roots of this and found that the Mosaic and Levitical law that I had been told and had believed was the foundation of conservatism, and capitalism, has a lot to say about how the poor were to be treated. Land owners were commanded to leave a percentage of their fields unharvested so that the poor, the orphans and widows and aliens (immigrants from other countries) could gather and eat the crop. This was in addition to their tithes. The children of Israel were commanded to treat strangers in their land as well or even better, in some cases, than their brothers. One third of the tithe was to be set aside in each city as a store house for the poor and alien, to provide sustenance for them.

I had also always believed that the law of sowing and reaping governed success in life, and that a person was responsible to dig themselves out when things went awry. I believed that if I failed it was because I had stepped outside of God's will for me and that my time, money and every word out of my mouth had to be accounted for by the most draconian measures, that any deviation from “good stewardship”, was grounds for the wrath of God to be unleashed in my life and that poverty was a judgment from God. Counter to this was the belief that capitalism was “God's system” that he intended for us to build wealth for future generations, and that he had a plan for me that would lead to that wealth. Of course this meant that profit, so long as it was honestly and legally gained, was always good, no matter what the means.

If this was true, why had God forbidden his children from charging interest on loans, and further more, why were all debts forgiven every seven years? By the way this is the basis for our modern day bankruptcy court. But bankruptcy, of course was the ultimate sign of God's disfavor. How could a good person, with God's best in mind for his fellow man, ever come to such a low point that he could not pay back what he owed.

The problem with this is, well, Jesus. He tells us to give to those who have no means to repay. He tells a story of a master who forgives debts and he tells a young man to take his family fortune and give it all to the poor, the same poor who were obviously so irresponsible that they had lost their own money, or were unable to hear God's whispered hints about their own personal road to riches. Then,when this man goes away sad because he was very wealthy, Jesus says it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to find his way into the kingdom of God. WOW

He also said, “Do not store up treasure for yourselves on Earth”. He told a story about a farmer who, instead of giving from his wealth to the poor decided to build a bigger barn to horde it all. He goes on to say that the man's soul was required of him that night and asked, “who will have your wealth now.”

So, what do I think was God's plan? Why did he chide those who were ready to stack coins end to end to the sky and create a system that reshuffled the deck every seven years? Because he knew our tendency to become attached, to fall to idol worship. He knew that, unchecked, the amassing of wealth would become greed, that greed would lead to power and that power would be abused, destroying the weak and the poor. This is why Christ also said, “No man can serve two masters, he will love the one and hate the other or hate the first and love the second, you cannot serve God and the wealth of this world.”

What do I believe this means? I don't fully know. Here's what I do know. Conservatism is a man made ideal that is built on trying to enforce enough rules to make one Godly. Liberalism is a man made ideal that frequently refuses to hold anyone accountable for their actions. God is a God of mercy and grace who holds all of us accountable to a standard that is impossibly high, then, in a stroke of genius, he sacrifices himself in the form of his Son to pay the price for me to meet the standard.

So, as for me, I swear no allegiance to any kingdom but the kingdom of God. I strive to be the best citizen of the country in which He has placed me because that is what He has called me to, not because I owe anything to any government. I choose to spend my time and energy in furthering the cause of the one that shed his blood for me and not anyone's political agenda. I will vote my conscience, as I believe all American's should, and when I cannot I will abstain from voting rather than default to a party candidate on either side. I will fight for justice for the poor and the alien as I believe He has called me to and I will strive to remember that He seeks to reconcile ALL of the nations of the Earth to himself, not just ours, and I will pray and work for that in any way that he calls me to, as fearlessly, tirelessly and guilelessly as he gives me strength to be.

In short I choose to LOVE, LOVE, SERVE

Love God
Love Others
Serve Everyone

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pastor Wanted, Sinners Need Not Apply.

The Church that my family and I have attended for the past few years is currently looking for a new pastor. Some of what you will read here applies to that situation, the title and that particular sentiment do not. They are more general observations. I am, in fact, proud of the way the men that serve us as elders have handled the situation thus far and have confidence in their ability to hear God regarding his man for the job

Abraham, David, Moses, Noah, King Saul, Peter.. these are just a few of the colossally screwed up men that God has called into his service throughout history. Some of them recovered, more; crashed, burned and were never heard from again. Arguably the most successful revivalist of all time, Jonah, even had the nerve to complain that the God --who drug him from the belly of the whale and allowed him to lead the entire “Sin City” of his day into repentance-- did not provide the fireworks he had promised by destroying the wicked city with brimstone.

Abraham lied to a Pharaoh, claiming his wife was his sister and was called a Father of the faith. David was an adulterer and murderer whose own family was so dysfunctional, one of his sons raped his sister and David's inaction drove his son Absalom to rebel and attempt a coup. David was called a friend of God. His son Solomon is widely known as the wisest man that ever lived, and yet had no less than 700 wives and concubines and practiced pagan idol worship.

The Bible is made up of very human people who made horrendously bad decisions at all almost every turn. In fact it sometimes seems the only good choice they all hold in common was the decision to say yes to the call of God on their lives to fulfill a specific purpose in a specific season.

With a few notable exceptions, including Samuel and several Kings of Israel, it seems that God has intended to showcase his ability to work through individuals whose track records are less than stellar. Why? Why doesn't God choose a Righteous man and preserve him from childhood instead of a prophet like Elijah who calls down fire from heaven and then almost immediately sinks into a self destructive fit of depression? (and remember he was called to the mountain when Christ was transfigured) I can think of at least two reasons.

First, the only people I know are those who realize how deeply flawed they are, or those who are about to discover it painfully. The human condition is the reason that all of us, without the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, are destined for damnation. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God as a favorite verse goes.

Second, if there was such a person what would we immediately do? Enshrine him. Our attachment to this earthly plain is so strong, and our understanding of its transitory nature is so weak that anything that appears as perfection is immediately worshiped. (By the way, we Christians would never “idolize” or “worship” a man, but we sure build pedestals so we can “look up” to them)

God needs us to recognize his position. This allows us to submit our wills to him so that he can work through us. Anyone that comes between us and God confuses us. It is so much easier to relate to a man who we can knock down off his pedestal once he know longer serves us. This need for human leadership, rather than a Father son relationship with God is what drove the children of Israel to ask for a king, and is, I believe, the reason that we have created the edifice of “Pastor”--a word, ironically, only used once in the New Testament in reference to anything other than a group of leaders, also known as elders—to serve as a defacto priest and dispense God's wisdom.

So, what, you ask, am I suggesting? That we do away with the professional ministry and let the spiritual anarchy ensue? Nothing quite as radical as that. I merely suggest that they, like us, are human and prone to the same temptations, weaknesses and problems that we all face. This should serve as a reason to protect and hold these men up, not as examples to be discarded when they fail, but as teachers who give up their lives to study and pray and hold the hands of the sick and dying and put everyone before themselves, as we all should, to lead us into the presence of God as brothers.

Next time that you begin to feel that your pastors, or spiritual leaders, are unapproachable and on another plane, find a way to reach out. More likely than not you will find a sometimes lonely, sometimes hurting, sometimes guilt ridden, sometimes joyous, sometimes triumphant, scared, faithful, confused, inspired, loving, impatient, kind, selfish, giving ball of humanity who probably feels that true friends who understand that he is just a man who loves Jesus the best he knows how, are too few and far between.